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Kalitta Shakes Up Driver Lineup

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 6 2016
J.R. Todd will be moving to a flopper in 2017.

J.R. Todd will be moving to a flopper in 2017.

Kalitta Motorsports has acted in-house to fill the Funny Car vacancy created by the unexpected departure of 2015 NHRA world champion Del Worsham.

Top Fuel regular J.R. Todd will drive the DHL Toyota Camry during the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. Meanwhile, Troy Coughlin Jr.’s previously announced part-time/sixth team schedule has been upgraded into a full time drive in the SealMaster Top Fuel dragster.

Todd _ who in 2006 became the first African-American to win an NHRA Top Fuel race _ actually will be making a return to the Funny Car class. Todd worked as a crew member on Bob Gilberston’s Funny Car during the 2003-2005 NHRA seasons along with current Kalitta employees Nicky Boninfante and Tommy DeLago.

The lineup changes were announced Monday from the Ypsilanti, Mich., headquarters of the team founded by NHRA pioneer/team-owner Conrad “Connie” Kalitta.

“Connie told Jim Oberhofer (Vice President of Operations, Kalitta Motorsports) the DHL Toyota is a special car and that I was the right guy for the job, which was a huge compliment to me,” said Todd, who will make his Funny Car debut at the season-opening 57th annual Circle K Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., in February. “I’m going to miss Del as a teammate as he has always been one of my heroes. I want to also say a huge thanks to SealMaster and their awesome franchisees. They are great people and it was an honor to represent them.” 

Todd joined Kalitta Motorsports during the fourth race of the 2014 season and went on to a career-best second-place finish in the point standings. In 152 Top Fuel events, Todd has nine victories, 19 final-round appearances, nine poles and 149 round-wins. The 2006 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner as NHRA’s Rookie of the Year, Todd has placed in the top-five in the point standings twice, including a fourth-place finish in the 2016 edition of the six-event Countdown to the Championship playoffs. 

“Ever since I worked with Nicky and Tommy D. on a Funny Car, driving one has been in the back of my mind and most people have known that,” said Todd, a resident of Avon, Ind., who will turn 35 on Dec. 16. “The DHL Toyota has quite the legacy and it’s a huge honor to be picked to drive it.”

DHL will continue as primary sponsor on Todd’s car, which will be tuned by Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith as co-crew chiefs.

Worsham, only the third driver to win NHRA world championships in Top Fuel and Funny Car, announced on Nov. 22 that he was leaving Kalitta Motorsports to rejoin father Chuck Worsham and his family-owned Funny Car team beginning in 2017.

Worsham drove the DHL entry to a seventh-place finish in the final 2016 point standings. The bright yellow car formerly was driven by the late Scott Kalitta, a two-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion and son of Connie Kalitta. The NHRA Top Fuel world champion in 1994 and 1995, Scott Kalitta recorded 17 Top Fuel wins and one in Funny Car prior to a fatal crash at Englishtown, N.J., on June 21, 2008. At the time of his death at age 46, Scott was one of 14 drivers to have won national events in both NHRA nitro categories.

Worsham, a 46-year-old resident of Villa Park, Calif., finished seventh in the 2016 Countdown to the Championship Funny Car standings topped by first-time world champion Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T fielded by Don Schumacher Racing. Worsham won the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 2011 driving for Al-Anabi Racing.

Coughlin Jr. will inherit an elite team for his rookie season. In 2016, Todd drove the SealMaster dragster to a national event victory in Sonoma, Calif., 37 round-wins and a top-five finish in the standings.

“I’m thrilled to be competing fulltime for Kalitta Motorsports in 2017 with an incredible backer like SealMaster and their franchise owners,” said Coughlin, a third-generation NHRA competitor. “The car is one of the best-looking machines on the racetrack and it’s awesome to be able to know I will have a car that can compete for the title.”

Coughlin, 26, has competed in a variety of drag racing classes, including Jr. Dragster, Super Comp, Super Gas and Pro Mod. Among his accomplishments is the 2013 Division 3 Super Gas championship, two wins at the prestigious U.S. Nationals and 2015 Rookie of the Year honors in Pro Mod. In total, he has five national event victories, four high-dollar bracket race titles and three divisional wins. Earlier this year, he earned his Top Fuel license.

“I had little doubt I was the luckiest guy alive when we said we’d be running four or five races in aJEGS.com-sponsored dragster next year,” said Coughlin, the son of three-time world champion drag racer Troy Coughlin Sr. “But this is beyond anything I could have ever dreamed. I literally can’t sleep I’m so excited. I’ve never felt like this before, even after winning Indy.

“This is a proven, championship-caliber race car and the fact Connie and Jim O. selected me to drive it is such an honor. They could have hired any driver out there and I’m sure the line was a mile long with people that have a ton of experience, but they decided to give this unproven kid a chance and it just blows me away.

“I don’t have experience in driving a Top Fuel car so I can’t bring that to the table but I do know I’ll work harder than anyone in proving they made a good choice. I’ll do everything I can to represent the team sponsors with integrity, to drive to the best of my abilities so I can help the crew make the best calls possible, and to soak up everything I can as it happens so each day I can get better.”

Troy Jr. is the grandson of JEGS Mail Order founder and drag racer Jeg Coughlin Sr. “Like my family, they love drag racing and motorsports in general and I’m very anxious to meet all of the company’s representatives around the country,” Coughlin said. “It’s also quite an honor to have Connie Kalitta and Rob Flynn tuning my car and to have teammates like J.R., Doug Kalitta, Alexis DeJoria and Paul Lee. These are people I’ve looked at as heroes growing up and now I’m able to work with them. I’m so humbled. It’s a dream come true and I couldn’t be happier.” 

Connie Kalitta, recently selected as inaugural NHRA Lifetime Achievement Award winner, will continue alongside Flynn in their roles after their outstanding 2016 season. SealMaster remains as the primary sponsor on the machine for all 24 events. 

“I’m excited for the future of our team,” Jim Oberhofer said. “First, I want to thank our incredible partners, DHL and SealMaster, for helping make this transition seamless. Both J.R. and Troy are ready for the 2017 season. J.R. is a very motivated driver and continues to be a perfect fit at Kalitta Motorsports. I know he will be a great ambassador for DHL and Toyota and I look forward to see what the season holds.

“I’m also thrilled to be able to get Troy into a fulltime seat. He proved to be a very precise driver during our test session in Las Vegas and I know he is going to do a great job in the SealMaster Top Fuel dragster.”

Additionally, the Kalitta Motorsports Funny Cars will undergo a reorganization of the team’s crew chiefs. As noted, Todd’s DHL Toyota will be led by Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith as co-crew chiefs. Smith comes on-board from teammate Paul Lee’s Funny Car.

Former DHL co-crew chief Boninfante will join DeLago on the Tequila Patrón Camry driven by DeJoria and Glen Huszar will lead Lee’s McLeod Racing Funny Car. All five Funny Car crew chiefs are former NHRA champions. 

Coughlin will partner with 2016 championship runnerup Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel, while Todd will be joined by DeJoria and Lee in Funny Car. Coughlin, DeJoria, Kalitta and Todd all will compete fulltime, with Lee planning a part-time run.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 6 2016
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